Films & Schedules

  • The Death of Tom

  • Glenn Ligon

23 minutes

Deco Dawson
Jason Moran
Principal Cast: Glenn Ligon, Ian Ward, Sarah Malik, Mikhel Proulx
Format: 3 Channel Colour and Black and White video projection
16mm Black and White film, video transfer, video, sound

Curated by Wayne Baerwaldt
Presented in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA)

MOCCA Project Room September 9 - 28
952 Queen Street West
Preview Saturday September 6 and Sunday September 7, 11AM - 6PM
Tuesday - Sunday, 11AM - 6PM
Closed Mondays
Opening September 11, 7PM - 10PM

Tuesday September 0911:00AM MOCCA Project Room Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

In 1903, Edwin S. Porter directed a fourteen-minute silent-film version of Uncle Tom's Cabin for Thomas Edison's film studio. Harriet Beecher Stowe's five-hundred-page novel was one of the bestselling books of the nineteenth century, selling more than three hundred thousand copies in its first year of publication alone and spawning dozens of “Tom Shows” – travelling stage adaptations and musicals with white actors in blackface – that were seen by millions. The popularity of novel and shows ensured that viewers of the period would have had a broad familiarity with the book and understood even the truncated version of the text produced by Edison's studio. Although the book popularized racist stereotypes for generations, scholars such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. have begun to re-examine Uncle Tom's Cabin, claiming the book is a “central document in American race relations and a significant moral and political exploration of the character of those relations.”

In his video installation The Death of Tom, New York-based artist Glenn Ligon has focused on the last scene of the Porter-Edison film, which depicts the death of Tom, the slave whose tragic story drives the narrative. Shooting on black-and-white 16mm film, Ligon sought to recreate the look of the Porter-Edison production. However, after the film was developed, he discovered it was a grey blur. Intrigued by this disappearance of the image – the subject of his own artistic production in other media over the last decade and a half – Ligon decided to use the “ruined” film in conjunction with documentary video footage shot at the same time. Presented on multiple screens, the resulting video focuses on the mechanics of the (re)making of the original production and the failure of representation. One sees actors rehearsing in and out of costume, shots of the set and the crew, and footage from the blurred black-and-white film. The viewer witnesses Tom rehearse his death over and over again, becoming a figure poised between the past and the present, between the representation of fiction and the fiction of representation. In its repetitions, moments of coincidence and disjunction, Ligon's The Death of Tom becomes a narrative that – like the larger historical narratives to which it refers – remains unfinished business.

Wayne Baerwaldt

Glenn Ligon was born in the Bronx and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, Wesleyan University and in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program. His work has combined painting and photography, as well as text-based, conceptual and web-based practices, and has addressed issues of racial and sexual identity. He has an extensive international exhibition record and his work is represented in numerous museum collections.

Cadillac People's Choice Award